As a conference blog, it would be easy for us to toe the company line and always endorse for the Heisman Trophy the candidate from the SEC. Most years, especially with a conference that has a long-running national championship streak, it would be easy to find a conference player to endorse with a straight face and play to the home crowd.
We have not done that at Team Speed Kills. Last year, we endorsed Robert Griffin III over Trent Richardson and Tyrann Mathieu. And when I cast a ballot in a blogger version of the Heisman Trophy in 2009, that vote went to Toby Gerhart over Mark Ingram. If there are times when this blog lets its SEC-centric nature get in the way of clear-headed analysis, the Heisman award season is not one of them.
But this year, it is clear that the most deserving candidate for the Heisman Trophy comes from the SEC -- even if he and the team he plays on have not been in the conference very long. For the 2012 Heisman Trophy, Team Speed Kills endorses Johnny Manziel. If there are voters still putting the finishing touches on their ballots, we urge them to put Manziel at the top of the list.
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There are plenty of metrics that voters often use, but we think that Manziel fits the bill on nearly every one. The Heisman Trophy is not an MVP award -- but if you want to give the award to the player that most improves his team, you could find very few candidates more deserving than Manziel.
Sure, Kansas State might not have been a factor in the national championship race without Collin Klein. And Manti Te'o undoubtedly bolsters Notre Dame's defense. But there are many reasons that Kansas State is as good as it is, and Notre Dame would have a solid defense even if Te'o weren't on the field for the Irish.
But does anyone think that Texas A&M is more than a marginal bowl team without Manziel? Is it even credible to imagine a 10-win season, with one of those victories coming against Alabama, if the Aggies had been forced to go with another quarterback?
We would argue that the answer to those questions is clearly no. And the reason for that answer gets back to what the Heisman Trophy should truly be about -- the player who displays the most excellence on the field, week in and week out, over the course of the college football season.
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Over the course of the year, it's easy to see that Manziel's numbers are special. As a freshman, he set a record for total offense in a single season in the SEC -- a record held by Cam Newton in 2010, which he grabbed by breaking the record held by Tim Tebow in 2007. And while marks like that don't mean that Manziel should automatically win the award those two players did, it shows how impressive the achievement is.
His averages also compare nicely with Tebow and Newton. In 2007, Tebow averaged 7.47 yards per play, gaining 4,181 yards on 560 touches. In 2010, Newton had 7.95 yards a play, gaining 4,327 yards on 544 touches. This year, Johnny Manziel has handled the ball on 584 plays and gained 4,600 -- a 7.88 yard per play average that puts him squarely between Tebow and Newton. (Several sources were used for these stats, but the most helpful site by far was, as usual, cfbstats.com. You should give it a try if you want college football info.)
In passing efficiency, Manziel ranks 17th in the country with a 155.85 rating. Throw in the fact that Manziel ranks 33rd among all college football players with 98.4 yards per game rushing, as a quarterback, and you begin to see how dynamic Manziel is. His 6.42 yard per carry average is a bit better nationwide -- 30th -- and his 8.5 yard per pass attempt average is 15th in the nation.
His passing numbers alone would not be enough to give him the Heisman, nor would his rushing numbers in isolation. But when you combine the two figures and look at the defenses Manziel generally faces, it becomes clear that Manziel has had an extraordinary year. You don't even have to grade him on a curve for being a freshman; with one season under his belt, the A&M signal-caller is among the best players in the country.
And he's also had big games, at times when his team most needed them. There were 14 times this year in which a player broke 500 yards of total offense; Manziel is the only player in the country with two of them. And one of those was in the Louisiana Tech game, when A&M needed every yard it could get to escape with a win. Manziel has five of the 100 biggest games in terms of total offense.
More importantly, he's consistent. Only twice has Manziel failed to pick up more than 300 yards of total offense -- with one of those games coming against Florida and the other against South Carolina State, when Manziel was responsible for just 28 plays. Manziel hasn't just had some of the best games in the country this year, he's had very few of the worst ones.
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On Sunday afternoon, I sent out a tweet asking for people to tell me what their favorite stat or play about Manziel was. Among the response were a couple of people who mentioned something that wasn't so much a stat or a play, but a characteristic, and one that shows both Manziel's talent and his impact on A&M.
Johnny Manziel is exceptional on third down.
Overall, Manziel converts about 44.8 percent of his running attempts on third-down; that's compared to 40.9 percent for Klein. Passing is no different -- Manziel's attempts lead to a first down about 54.1 percent of the time, compared to about 50.7 percent for Klein. When Manziel is put into a position where he has to respond, he does. Perhaps better than when the pressure is not on -- Manziel's passer efficiency rating on third down is 193.65, almost thirty points above his score on his next-best down (first). That's no doubt a big reason why Texas A&M converts an NCAA-leading 55.4 percent of its third downs.
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The only strike against Manziel that anyone has been able to come up with is his age. As a freshman, Manziel would be the first first-year player to ever win the Heisman Trophy. And if the Heisman Trophy is what it says it is, that really shouldn't matter.
The Heisman Trust's mission statement says the award goes to "the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity." Nowhere does it say that the award has to go to an upperclassman, or that freshmen need not apply. If Manziel has the achievements to justify being the Heisman Trophy winner, his age should not be a factor.
It is a bar Manziel has easily cleared. No other player has been as excellent and as consistent and as important to his team as Manziel has been. No matter what conference you follow, no matter what standard you use, Johnny Manziel should be this year's Heisman Trophy winner.